The battle between the New York Islanders and the Town of Hempstead has been raging for years now. It is a battle over 77 acres owned by one entity and occupied by the other. It has become a political football for both the Democrats and the Republicans.
Development of the site has been talked about everywhere from the local coffee shops all the way up to the White House. Yet, the Islanders are no closer to having a new home than they were more than a decade ago. Or so it may seem.
Donald Monti, owner of Renaissance Downtowns—one of the four developers that submitted an RFQ to Nassau County for the Hub project—thinks differently. He believes he is the only developer knocking on the County’s door that can keep Long Island’s only major sports franchise on Long Island.
In a phone interview with Kevin Schultz of IslandersPointBlank.com, Mr. Monti had this to say: “To be honest, there really is no other team but us, I’m not saying this for self-serving reasons, I’m saying it because there’s nobody that cares about the Islanders staying that’s responded. When they say so publicly then they mean so even more privately.”
"Caring" has long been a part of the battle. The "fans"care too much, the politicians don’t "care" at all and quite frankly, the Islanders owner seems to care less and less since the failed referendum attempt of August 2011. Since that public failure, Charles Wang and company have resorted to almost monk-like silence.
I had a very spirited phone conversation on August 8th with Brandon Palanker from Renaissance that started with Brandon telling me “We’re all Long Islanders. No pun intended.”
Yes, the Renaissance Downtowns group ARE Long Islanders even though they have developed more than 80 projects throughout the Northeast. Mr. Palanker is one of those Islander fans that was nostalgic about Clark Gillies and Bryan Trottier hanging out in a Nassau County diner in the glory days. He understands that things are different now. This is not the Dynasty team. Today’s Islanders are struggling both on the ice and off.
According to a recent Forbes ranking, The Islanders' value is the 29th in the league of 30 with only the NHL owned Phoenix Coyotes below them. Their value has steadily declined and Charles Wang has been bleeding money as the Isles are listed with the lowest revenue of the entire NHL.
In an effort to reduce his loses, he has scaled back much of his operating costs which has become a bone of contention for his fan base. With NHL revenue sharing out of reach for the Isles because they break only ONE of the criteria by being in a market of more than 2.5 million, the Isles are skating on thin ice.
The sorry state of the Isles has not made them unattractive to the likes of Bruce Ratner and his sparkling new Barclays Center in need of a tenant other than the Nets. However, a move to Brooklyn with no additional revenue stream other than ones associated with the hockey club will probably not be enough to entice Charles Wang to call the moving trucks. Barclays would be a new house, not the legacy he was hoping to leave behind on the Island.
Then along comes Renaissance (in conjunction with UrbanAmerica), the master developer for the Village of Hempstead and their “Renew Hempstead” project which is less than a mile (or three) to the Nassau Hub. Therein may lay a certain synergy: A revitalized downtown Hempstead area within walking distance of the Coliseum property. While we spoke, Brandon’s enthusiasm for the project’s possibilities became infectious.
There are 3,500 residential units approved for the Renew Hempstead project which is slated to break ground in early 2013. The original LighthouseLI project proposed 2,306 housing units. The Town of Hempstead came back and zoned the property for only a maximum of 500. So, can this area so close to everything the Island has to offer, including transportation to Manhattan, bring in the 20-somethings, the 30-somethings and those all important businesses back to Hempstead again? Donald Monti, and his group, believe they can.
This quote comes from the New York Real Estate Journal of July 2012.
“The Triple Bottom Line philosophy revolves around social, economic and environmental responsibility with an emphasis on community participation throughout the redevelopment process and the inclusion of locally owned, independent businesses within a re-envisioned downtown.”
Monti is NOT a “Levittown” style developer. But he will have the same impact on the landscape of Long Island if this works. Take a look at any of their “public inclusion” websites created by Crowdsourced Placemakers LLC, who works with Renaissance on their social media public outreach programs.
Check out BristolRising.com to see what they’ve been able to do in Bristol CT. Or should I say, what the residents have been able to do. Think of a re-mastered Norman Rockwell USA for the Social Media generation. Then check to see what they have just begun to do at “Renew Hempstead” and start to think about how this symmetry may work.
Mr. Palanker didn’t get into any details with me about their plans for the 77 acres, but he did mention a sports entertainment complex including a new arena for the Islanders and a bioscience center to work in conjunction with Hofstra University. While many of the components of the original Lighthouse project may once again be proposed, this developer doesn’t see it as "mini city" that scared so many Nassau residents.
The only thing missing is a transit system and with Hempstead housing a major bus and train center, the idea of a light rail of some sort down Hempstead Turnpike to connect the two projects seems genuinely feasible. A new light rail would mean the existing older rail that ran through Garden City would still remain unused. A new light rail may also be able to connect Hempstead, the Hub and the courthouses and municipal buildings in Mineola together relieving some auto traffic in those areas.
Where’s the funding? Admittedly it would have to fall predominately on the private sector with some governmental funding being available from State and Federal levels. Perhaps a portion of that "private sector" funding could come from the future anchor tenant for the project, Charles Wang.
“The plan has to work for everyone.” Mr. Palanker told me, but there have been no formal meetings with the Islanders as of yet. “We feel confident we can work with the Islanders organization. We have a team that understands what they need. We feel we can present something that actually works. We know we can make it work.”
Charles Wang thought he could make it work too—twice. He invested millions of dollars in the design and planning and paid for the environmental studies ordered by the Town of Hempstead. He then proposed an arena and sports complex funded by tax payers with an ROI based on all tenants revenue. That failed too. Perhaps the third time is a charm.
“We’ve reached a point in time where the stars have aligned. It’s our opportunity. We must take it. It’s up to US.” And by "us" Mr. Palanker means residents of Hempstead Village and of Long Island. If we want to revitalize our Island and prepare it for the future, along with keeping our only major sports franchise, it is up to us. The politicians won't do it alone.
So, maybe Donald Monti will save the New York Islanders for Long Island. Of course, this is all dependent on if and when Ed Mangano approves their RFQ to even begin the process. Meanwhile, Charles Wang had a meeting at the NHL offices this week and no one seems to know why.
Ahem…tick tock Mr. Mangano. Tick tock!
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